A lot of bands tend to lock themselves inside the studio when they’re working on a new album and only leave to use the bathroom, grab a sandwich, or drink a beer. Buddy Nielsen, the vocalist of post-hardcore quintet Senses Fail, would exit Salad Days Studio in Baltimore, Maryland, while recording the group’s fourth album The Fire to practice jiu jitsu at the local neighborhood Gracie academy.
“I went to a Renzo affiliate and learned from a Rickson Gracie guy,” says the 26-year-old blue belt. “I try as much as Ican to go to different places when I’m on tour just to learn new stuff. It’s really cool to be able to walk into a foreign place and have something in common with other people. You just can’t do that with a lot of other sports.”
Nielsen got his first glimpse of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu back in 1993. He was 9 years old and pleaded with his mom to order the first Ultimate Fighting Championship event. After seeing Royce Gracie dominate bigger warriors in the Octagon, he searched venomously for a local school where he could learn the discipline. Unfortunately for the New Jersey native, there wasn’t a gym around that taught the submission art, and once MMA entered the dark ages, he no longer kept up with the sport.
Fast forward to 2005 when The Ultimate Fighter debuted on Spike TV. The vocalist was ho oked again and renewed his quest to find a BJJ gym. In 2007, Nielsen discovered Performance Jiu-Jitsu—a Gracie affiliated Academy in Fairlawn, New Jersey—and fell in love with the fighting style.
“I like everything about BJJ. I like it beyond the idea of self-defense and beyond the idea of it as a sport,” Nielsen says. “It has helped me as a per son deal with a lot of things in my life. I think it’s good for you as a person to know. You have to be so humble in jiu jitsu because there is always somebody better than you. Every time you think you’ve made an improvement, you still have so much to learn. I love it as a fighting style too. I want jiu jitsu fighters to win. I think it’s the most effective form of fighting. That’s why I hate people like Matt Hughes.”
Well, he doesn’t hate Matt Hughes. Nielsen just dislikes his attitude. “I think he likes saying that American wrestling is superior,” the singer says with a laugh. “I think he knows—everybody knows—you can’t fight MMA unless you know Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.”
Nielsen loves jiu jitsu so much, it’s easy to assume that he might actually be part Brazilian. He was admittedly impressed with Anderson Silva’s come-from-behind win over Chael Sonnen at UFC 117 and Fabricio Werdum’s quick submission over Fedor Emeliane nko at June’s Strikeforce card. He roots for just about any BJJ practitioner who enters the cage.
“It all comes back to jiu jitsu,” Nielsen gushes. “It’s not something you can just learn. You can’t pick it up like striking. It becomes engrained into your being. It’s essentially the best form of fighting.”
Aside from learning the art of submission, Nielsen has also tried his luck in the striking realm. The vocalist dabbled in Muay Thai at Kru Training in Bergenfield, New Jersey, back in 2007, but after six months of training there, he learned the hard way that this particular fighting discipline wasn’t for him.
“I went to a real legit Muay Thai place where you actually fight and they actually train you to fight—not like where you show up and do conditioning for a fucking hour. And if you wanna spar, you gotta prove you’re actually into it,” he recalls. “It wasn’t just a mixed martial arts or an ‘alacarte’ kinda place. It was a real Muay Thai gym, and honestly, I’m not a fighter. I don’t wanna get kicked in my fucking ribs and kicked in my fucking leg, and punched in the face.”
That isn’t the only pain Nielsen has experienced. Ever since Senses Fail dropped their third studio album Life Is Not A Waiting Room in 2008, the group has dealt with plenty of inner turmoil. Aside from personal and creative struggles, the New Jersey rockers encountered legal issues and, guitarist Heath Saraceno left the band. For a bleak moment, it appeared as if the band was on the verge of collapse.
Ultimately, Nielsen regrouped and now,Senses Fail (also comprised of original guitarist Garrett Zablocki, new guitarist Zack Roach, bassist Jason Black, and drummer Dan Trapp) are back with The Fire, their fourth studio offering, courtesy of Vagrant Records.The New Jersey quintet unleashed “Saint Anthony” and the title track on the Internet to further hype the LP.
While The Fire could be their best effort to date, this album signifies Senses Fail returning with a reignited passion. “It’s been a rough two years with the recession and everything within the music industry changing,” he says. “We had to trudge through the bullshit and the fire, come out on the other end, and you’re pretty much clear of everything that’s been holding you back. It’s a metaphorical image. You walk through the fire, and you actually come out on the other side with only the things you need—all the bullshit has burned away.”
Now with the flames behind them, Senses Fail can move forward again, and this time, if anyone gets in Nielsen’s way, he’s always got his BJJ to rely on.